THE DIRECÇÃO Geral de Veterinária (DGV), the Portuguese veterinary directorate, is preparing to implement strategies against bird flu in conjunction with European-wide measures due to be announced in Brussels.
Fernando Bernardo, assistant director of the DGV, says the organisation’s aim is to reduce the risk of human contagion and the threat to Portugal’s birds. Likely measures include limitations on the hunting of migratory birds and greater confinement of birds inside Portuguese territory. Migrating birds start to enter Portugal in October. These include ducks from Russia, a country where the virus has been identified, so risking the spread of the virus from continent to continent. Bernardo conceded that control over domestic birds was more complicated but said that confinement of birds in enclosed pavilions was an option.
The DGV is also considering providing antiviral drugs to risk groups, including handlers and veterinarians, who are advised to wear protective masks and goggles. Authorities also recommend that people who have contact with birds should be vaccinated against human flu. “Although it is not specifically directed at the virus in question (avian flu), it can offer some immunity,” he maintained.
The H5N1 bird flu virus is only transmitted to humans via close contact with live infected birds and, in particular, by inhalation of dried bird faeces. “If a person eats meat from an infected bird, there is no contagion,” Bernardo says. Avian flu started as an animal virus but mutated to cause the deaths of at least 60 people in South East Asia since 2003, principally in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. Authorities in Kazakhstan also recently announced that they had identified the virus in seven villages near the Russian border. To date, the only reported case of human to human contagion was in Vietnam and doubts still remain about the exact nature of the transmission.